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ELKO — Agencies in the Elko area are participating in the nationwide movement to curb homelessness among veterans.

The Veterans Affairs Salt Lake City Health Care System is working with the Elko Convention Center and the Nevada Office of Veterans Services to host a Homeless Veteran Stand Down. This is the first time a stand down will be held in Elko.

Local agencies such as the Walmart Vision Center and Friends in Service Helping will fill the Elko Convention Center from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. today to provide homeless veterans with clothing, supplies, a warm meal and outdoor gear. Medical booths will be set up to provide both physical and mental health resources, as well as a station to assist with Medicaid information, said Dorothy Minor, who is helping organize the Elko event.

Although it is a one-day event, the goal of helping homeless veterans is much broader.

Al Hernandez, director of the homeless veterans program at the Salt Lake City VA, said putting together stand downs in smaller areas such as Elko gives them an idea of what the demand and need is in those areas. The Salt Lake City VA Health Care System covers a large area including Ely, Elko and parts of Idaho.

“It’s important to have a baseline of what the need is in Elko,” Hernandez said. “It’s not just a hand-out of supplies, but to help veterans stay connected to VA health care, or if they want to relocate they can come into a transitional housing program here in Utah.”

The Utah VA has hosted small stand downs in Utah County, Washington County, Utah and Pocatello, Idaho, so far in 2011. Now that they are taking place in smaller areas, Hernandez said they hope to make it an annual event.

According to a HUD and VA assessment, nearly 76,000 veterans were homeless on a given night in 2009 and approximately 136,000 spent at least one night in a shelter nationwide.

“I know Elko is better off than the average place, but I still see a strong need out there. I think if we can help them and find a way to hook them up with other services in the long run it will be better for the community,” Minor said.

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The original stand down for homeless veterans was modeled after a concept used during the Vietnam War that provided a safe retreat for units returning from combat operations, according to the National Coalition for Homeless veterans. At secure base camps, troops were able to take care of personal hygiene, receive clean uniforms, have a warm meal and receive dental and medical care in a safe place.

The same concept applies to the stand downs for homeless veterans, as they too will receive a free meal, warm clothing and necessary care. The local Veterans of Foreign Wars and the POW/MIA Elko Awareness Association will provide lunch to homeless veterans. Lunch will be served from noon-2 p.m.

Minor said they don’t know how many people to expect.

“Any one of us at any moment could be one of these people and if something happens and I’m homeless I hope someone helps me,” Minor said.

For information, call 777-1000.

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